The Balkan Pie
(Dave wasn’t able to get WordPress to cooperate this morning. So he sent this to me and asked me to post it for him — Amanda)
I’ve always said that unity and broadness in sf/fantasy were a net positive for the very people doing their best to narrow and Balkanize it.
This post comes out of a couple of statements I’ve read over the past week. It occurred to me that people just don’t grasp what is going on and just what effect that’ll have on the writer (and wider world). I paraphrase:
“SF is getting Balkanized.”
“It’s always been Balkanized. This just the latest dose. And anyway, it doesn’t affect anyone outside the few fans who go to cons. That’s all an author sees, but they’re not typical of readers.”
“And so what if it is getting divided? It makes no difference at all. People always choose what to read.”
Publishing, and the whole writing world is reflective and reactive to the wider world. Its battles are small but they are the echoes of a conflict outside, particularly in the US.
And, in my dispassionate outsider’s view, as a fairly moderate sort of guy who fits no political party well, but finds the modern Left worryingly authoritarian and totalitarian… The US is more divided than I’ve ever seen in my twenty odd years of watching. Yes, it has been divided before, but this time there are disruption factors that just weren’t there before.
And the same is true in publishing, and in sf/fantasy. Before, there were a few large publishers to push things back in line, and basically to ensure that it was unity or… exile and death (at least as published author). So while there were little Balkans in the closed circles of the cons and fans, not a lot of that seeped beyond. That began to change when the Publishing Industry became predominantly left wing, along with the media, with whom it enjoyed close links. With distribution and bookshops generally in thrall, it stopped being an in-house game – at least for the dominant group. You had a plethora of bloggers and media stables (the Gawker group was a frequent player), as well as reviewers from Locus to Radish reviews all pushing doctrinaire books, and either trashing or not covering the ones that didn’t live up to their narrative, either in the author’s public stance (Orson Scott Card) or content. Aggregator sites – File 770 — skewed coverage further, elevating their ‘side’ and either ignoring the other or deliberately spinning it as negative. Now, I am sure they didn’t plan this: they were just in control, and promoting their own. We’re not talking of deep thinkers or clever conspirators. If the bias got pointed out to them, they are experts at rationalizing it away, and claiming the end justified the means, and that they were doing it for everyone’s good. The non-dominant group went on being polite about the Left’s books, buying them and reading them – they had no real alternative. Basically access and sales to the left were closed to them. The center and right were painted as inferior, bad and awful (to quote some actual words used).
The right and center had little choice but to put up with this. Traditional publishing in the US (and I believe the same in UK and Australia) skews hard Left. I know, Camestros will go into denial loops, but the industry is essentially Left wing, Historically they controlled access, sales outlets, and distribution, media, critical assessment. The result of that politically dominant position has been mirrored in buying choices – which authors were bought, which authors were heavily promoted, which authors got book-tours etc. Of course they tended to buy books whose world view and therefore politics tended to reflect their own. At a conservative estimate I’d say that 9 out of 10 authors published by traditional publishing in the last 10 years are left wing, and often overtly so. It’s slowly been drifting that way for at least 50 years.
At the same time Traditional Publisher fiction book sales in general
and sf/fantasy in specific have been on a rapid decline. Looking at the last three years – data from Nielsen via PW.
‘Oh but it recovered in 2015’ you say. Not if you take out The Martian – a single book selling about 1200 000 – a once off and not a trend indicator:
At the same time serious disruption factor – in the shape of e-books and Amazon as a distributor changed everything.
As a result of that disruption factor the historically non-dominant sector – the moderate and conservative authors started getting real traction with audiences OUTSIDE the cons for the first time. Not of course through the left-controlled media, but through increasingly popular blogs, twitter, Facebook. This has been a massive disruptor too. The big 5 no longer can prevent balkanization on their side too.
That’s history and background. The result of that politically dominant position has been mirrored in editors buying choices – which authors were bought, which authors were heavily promoted, which authors got book-tours etc. The left owned 90 of the authors, 99.4% of publishing, and sold to 100% of the audience. Anyone who wasn’t left, sold only to what of the well wasn’t poisoned, and could not counter it.
Now the proportion of the demographic of the US that self-identifies as left wing has reached… 24%. [http://www.gallup.com/poll/188129/conservatives-hang-ideology-lead-thread.aspx] For ease of calculation I’ll be generous and call that 25% or one quarter or one in four readers.
I know it is really fashionable and ‘cool’ in NY publishing circles and among their camp followers to say “well the other ¾ don’t read and certainly can’t write. They’re stupid, need our leadership and to be told what is good for them.” It’s also really, really suicidal for the industry to say this, and not supported by any empirical evidence. And believe me – they’ve tried to find or manufacture it.
When one establishes this point, if the NYC publisher hasn’t put her fingers in her ears and run off screaming “la la la! I can’t hear you.” They then say “Yes, but that’s history. It’s no use fighting it. You’re on the wrong side of it. They are the young and that’s the future. Look at the young (thirty-something) movers and shakers in the field. Hard Left, invested in PC. Worrying about micro-aggressions in their tofu-shake.”
Really? Reading isn’t evenly distributed, I would agree. But then neither are political affiliations. And neither is having children. And neither – most importantly — is buying books. Welfare mums may well read, and so may their kids, but they don’t have a lot of disposable income. Those rainbow-haired loud movers and shakers of literary scene… how many kids have they got? If they have one, that’s a lot. More likely they have a hamster, and hamsters don’t read much. And yes, if they have a child they will buy books for him/her/it. But ‘fertile’ and ‘future’ are not words that go together for this group. Meanwhile, the moderates and conservatives working/middle class tend to have kids, and especially in flyover America, read, and have the money to buy books. That’s who will turn up for the future. It belongs to them.
Anyway, that aside: it’s the medium term that really is the issue. Let’s talk about the finite pie. There is the assumption that there’s a specific size pie of money from people buying books, which is divided between producers (authors), publishers and retailers. As all of them have expenses, let’s keep it at gross income.
Let’s assume – for the purpose of this discussion that the finite pie of book consumers is correct. (it is finite, but its size is quite a lot more flexible than generally accepted by Traditional Publishing). For this exercise lets it is in a steady state (it’s not, but let’s try and keep it simple.)
Now authors’ incomes (and their earning power for their publisher) are not the same. It is best described by a classic Poisson distribution, with a few authors earning a lot – but there is still an average and a median. So let’s talk about (for ease of explanation) a representative sample of 10 median authors, earning a pie of $100 000 per book split between all 10. That’s not a lot, but sadly, that’s quite plausible. http://archive.is/epAM8. That would imply between them they made roughly another $400K for their publishers, and 500K for the retailers. Given that 9 out of ten are left wing authors, that leaves 1 moderate/right wing author. So the ‘pie’ would divided $10K each because they each sell to 100% of the spectrum…
Except they don’t. The moderates and right wing authors suffer much the same discrimination as at the Hugos. The left 25% of the readers don’t buy many, if any, books that don’t come from the 9 left wing authors. People like Irene Gallo of Tor Books and Damian Water of the Guardian have openly denigrated non-left wing authors as ‘bad writers’ and ‘awful writers’. Their ideological friends believe them absolutely and won’t touch anything that doesn’t bear the imprimatur of Left Approval, and even some outsiders are affected by this torrent of abuse. So the one moderate/right author has the table further skewed against him, in that only the 75% he comes from will buy his books – and with buyers faced with 10 books, he would sell to 1/10 of 75%… but the 9 sell 1/10 each to 100% of the audience.
So you might express the division of the $100K as $7500 for him (call him Red), and the others (call them Blue) getting $10 000 each + (1/9 of $2500) = $10278.
That was the status quo 10 years back. Like-for-like authors any moderate/conservative author earned less, as well as having less support, less markets, less publicity, less awards, less reviews… just less. It was like racing with handicap weights – you had to work a lot harder to get the same result. No I don’t think any of us went to patreon to bleg.
In the last few years that has slowly begun to turn. Firstly, Amazon provided an outlet that wasn’t dependent on traditional publishing. And, secondly, ever so slowly, readers started to apply the same discrimination – but in reverse. “I only buyBaen books” – I’ve heard that a lot. (I am starting to hear ‘I only buy Castilia or Indy’ too).
Now let’s work out what dividing Traditional Publishing by this bi-partisan discrimination (instead of one-sided partisanship) actually does to that pie. After all, 25% exclusivity! That’s a big deal! I mean giving a micron would mean giving up 25% of exclusive advantage right? Stay the course and damn the torpedoes, right? Because we’ve got a 25% edge. And this… believe it not, is how most File 770’s true believers think (if you can call it that.) This, it appears, is how most New York Editors think. This it appears is how most left-wing authors think. This is certainly how most of WorldCon’s TruFen think. “We’ll kick out Vox Day and anyone doesn’t that go along with us. We don’t need them! We’ll teach them a lesson! Let them go off and die without our support!”
The financial reality is harshly the opposite.
Let’s start with the assumption that a mere 5% of customers decide that they are not going to buy books from the 9 left wing authors. The pie is still all spent. So… instead of Blues getting 10K each + (1/9 of 2500) they get $9500 + (1/9 of $2500) =$9778.
But… Red still got his $7500 – but he ALSO got sales from 9 Blues 5%, who had each given up $500 (Yes, Some of them had been his customers all along. Some had not. We’re using these numbers as proxies and simplifications.) So his income is up nicely, to $12000. That’s a nice 60% for Red… and for Red’s publisher.
So… How many people in that pie CAN the Publishing Establishment and their friends and camp followers afford to alienate? What is break-even point? The point at which in this scenario, it would have been better for the left wing author and his or her publisher to aggressively pursue unity in the field, to encourage full access to their 25% for the moderate and right wing than to have encouraged a split? I know – those of you think numerically got there LONG ago, but for File 770, NYC Publishing, Left-wing authors who have been silent about the situation, or like Jemisin or Scalzi or Hines actively attacked and belittled and tried to damage and exile, and TruFen and ‘Baldrick’ Quinn… around 2.78%. That’s all. 2.78%
Blues get 9722+(1/9 of $2500) = $99 999.78 each. Red gets 7500+(278*9) = $10 002.
Of course you have given Red 30% increase in salary by attacking him. And you have NO counter move. No redress, no lever, because you’ve already applied the full force of that. What are you going to counter it with? A threat not to buy Red’s books? Too late. False media slurs against Red? Too late. Trash talking his novels? Too late for all of it, you’ve done all that.
And at 2.78% he hasn’t even STARTED punishing you for it. He still has another 72% for total separation to go.
And it only gets worse, fast (or rather, better for Red, worse for Blue). Of course in the real world, publishers stop selling Blue books or go out of business. And Blue authors find it not worth it and quit. Either way, if they were one of your favorite authors, you lose, thanks to the brilliant leadership of the puppy-kicker faction. Most of the authors whose lives are trashed – will be the rank and file. The leadership who got them into this mess, will not be affected, and knew that. If you were on the other side of the equation – a Red author or reader – well, more Red authors will soon join in, so comfort yourself with the loss of your Blue colleagues, with a better paycheck. I’ll personally miss some of them, but… they didn’t step up to help me. I know: their ‘friends’ would have turned on them instead.
Here is the progression.
And there are still people out there who say Vox Day is stupid, and PNH, Scalzi, Jemisin, Hines GRRM, Glyer, Gerrold, Gallo etc are clever and ‘helping’ the left by dividing the field, by driving people out so they will not buy sf or fantasy from certain sources? And this is a good thing, getting rid of anyone but the left?
You can quibble trivial details about the numbers – and I’m sure Camestros will, despite the fact that I’ve said that they are indicative examples not actual numbers, but no matter how you fiddle about – the five key drivers remain the same. 1) The left wing have largely reserved the left wing market for themselves while selling to everyone. 2) While this part of the demographic remains smaller than the center and right, it will always be worse hurt by a response in kind. They only survive by NOT eliciting this response. 3) As Left wing NYC editors have disproportionately bought authors with whom they sympathize and identify, even only a small counter-response (the effect spread through a few authors) – will be very lucrative for right-wing and centrist authors AND their publishers. 4 ) The Left-wing authors and their publishers and camp followers have no counter-boycott to threaten in response, because they’ve used it already. 5) Independents and new small publishers are going to take any gaps that this creates, exacerbating their problem.
Cure, and bringing the field back together, was always going to be hard. Given the ‘Bad Actors’ (a new SJW term for people you don’t like – or in my case, trust) in the upper echelons of the Trad Publishing establishment, who basically have everything to lose if the ship changes direction, I would say impossible. There is nothing tangible in it for the right or center to give ground without the left abandoning all 25% exclusivity – and even then, that window to do that in is small. Yet… If the ship doesn’t change direction soon it is going to hit the iceberg. But at least they’ll be at the helm. I’m glad I don’t own shares in traditional publishing. And if I was a Blue author, I’d start quietly moving towards the lifeboats and just happen to have my lifejacket (friends on the Red Ship and lots of scurrilous stories about Blue editors to tell them) handy.
I foresee, very clearly, very soon, where authors will get punished for the public political stance of their publisher or editor. I think this particularly likely if the left wins the next election in the US. As I’ve said before – losers are bitter losers, without vast grace in victory, and I can’t see that grace. I expect the losers (either way) to widen the gap.
One thing that is for certain: there is no further compromise nor help coming from me, anyway. Unity would do the field good – but it has to be across the board – with them dealing entirely with their exclusion FIRST.
So, to those on the left of the equation: If you suddenly don’t want to Balkanize the field after all, seeing as it is a death-wish – don’t mouth pieties about unity. We’re not interested. Show us by real measurable actions. Deal with those we think are extremists and unacceptable. Show us how it is done. When the apartheid state in publishing, cons, awards, critical acclaim, change… we may believe you.
Oh, in the nature of an experiment I have put A MANKIND WITCH on Kindle Unlimited. I am curious to see how many pages get read. The picture is a link.